More complaints alleging age discrimination were filed by federal employees each year from 2010 to 2014 than complaints alleging race or disability discrimination.
The Annual Report on the Federal Work Force states that age was a basis for 4,697 complaints filed by federal employees in 2014, compared to 3,838 complaints of race discrimination and 3,817 complaints of (physical) disability. Age discrimination was, by far, the leading basis for complaints filed by federal employees each year during the four-year period, with a high of 5,314 age discrimination complaints filed in 2010.
Yet, the federal government, which is the nation’s largest employer, has done virtually nothing – if anything – to address the problem of age discrimination in federal employment. In fact, President Barack Obama made the problem considerably worse in 2010 when he signed an executive order to permit federal agencies to discriminate in hiring on the basis of age in hiring. The order exempts the federal government from the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which expressly prohibits using age as a consideration in hiring.
President Obama couched his order permitting age discrimination in federal hiring as a diversity measure.
The president argued in his executive order that the federal government is at a disadvantage in hiring students and recent graduates because of civil service regulations (that were passed in 1871 to prevent cronyism and to ensure fairness in hiring). He added that “students and recent graduates … infuse the workplace with their enthusiasm, talents, and unique perspectives.” (Does this mean that older workers don’t?)
Underlying President Obama’s executive order is the assumption that America must choose between the worthy goal of nurturing young workers and the ideal of equal opportunity for all. But is this choice really necessary? The United States has the world’s largest national economy, with a gross domestic product estimated to be $17.914 trillion in 2015. The pie is big enough to make sound policy decisions that boost employment for younger workers without consigning older workers to irrational discrimination, chronic unemployment and poverty.
The Federal Work Force report states that the leading basis for complaints filed by federal employees over the four-year period was reprisal or retaliation, which involves multiple bases of discrimination. The report states that 7,018 complaints of reprisal/retaliation were filed against federal employers in 2014. The issue of retaliation that was most frequently alleged was non-sexual harassment (6,102 complaints), which includes age, race and disability-based harassment.
In my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I argue that age discrimination is epidemic in America but invisible and unaddressed. It’s not likely, for example, that Americans would stand still for an executive order that permitted federal agencies to hire only Hispanics or Muslims applicants. But age discrimination is tolerated. To my knowledge there has been no outcry from any quarter about Obama’s executive order. This includes:
- The AARP, which supposedly advocates for Americans aged 50 and older;
- The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, which supposedly enforces the ADEA;
- Various Congressional committees and subcommittees (including the Senate Committee on Aging) that exist to protect older Americans;
- Various federal agencies that supposedly insure compliance with civil service rules (the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the Federal Labor Relations Authority and the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board); and,
- The U.S. Supreme Court has always accorded age discrimination far less protection than race or sex discrimination.
All of the evidence points to the fact that almost 50 years after the adoption of the ADEA, age discrimination is tolerated and encouraged by the very institutions that exist to insure fairness and equal justice for all. Age discrimination apparently is the last acceptable form of discrimination even though it is fundamentally no different from any other type of discrimination. Experts agree overwhelmingly that all discrimination is motivated by fear, hatred and false stereotypes.
Itis easy when you are young to forget: “When we talk about age, each of us is talking about his or her own future,” Robert N. Butler (1927-2010), the first director of the National Institute on Aging.